ICC World Cup: Gunning for Babar Azam won’t help Pakistan campaign
The mild mannered captain had been leading more by example rather than great tactical acumen
It’s not easy to be in Pakistan skipper Babar Azam’s shoes these days. Three days after a demoralising defeat against India in Ahmedabad, the barrage of criticism about his style of leadership and the team’s manner of capitulation continues unabated.
While the fans’ disappointment at their team failing to break their jinx in the 50-overs World Cup against India is understandable, it’s the former cricketers who have been perhaps more severe in tearing the current lot to shreds. From Wasim Akram questioning Babar about receiving Indian jerseys from Virat Kohli under the gaze of the TV cameras soon after the defeat to saying in a chat show that Pakistan players don’t have a system of fitness tests, Waqar Younis advising Shaheen Shah Afridi to learn discipline from Jasprit Bumrah – these are only a few examples.
Not quite the build-up that the green shirts would have preferred during a long break before they take on a resurgent Australia on Friday, 20 October. The skipper had a quiet 29th birthday with his teammates in their Bangalore while a video circulating in social media showed the team stepping out for a team dinner under strict vigil.
The pressure is clearly building on Babar, arguably the finest batsman across all formats in the post Kohli-Smith-Root-Williamson era but may not be quite as inspirational as a leader. Given the dynamics of Pakistan cricket, it won’t be a surprise to see him being removed as captain of this format if they fail to make the semi-finals at least.
Well, the diehard Pakistan fan is free to invoke the ‘Spirit of 1992,’ when Pakistan fought like caged tigers – as Imran Khan referred them to as they clawed up from the bottom of the table and went on to win the trophy. That was then when the team boasted the likes of Rameej Raza, Inzamam-ul Haq, Wasim Akram or a Moeen Khan and it’s pertinent to drop the cliché of a captain-is-as-good-as-his-team here.
How good is Babar actually as a captain? When he was appointed as the captain of all formats three years back, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) was desperate to find an incumbent who is a certainty in all formats after Sarfraz Ahmed fell out of favour. Then already riding righ as one of the premier batters in the game, the Karachi-born Babar was a character who had to always rely on leading by example – as neither was he someone with an exceptional tactical acumen or was he larger-than-life like a Imran, Akram or Waqar.
Those familiar with Pakistan cricket know that apart from outthinking the opposition, even some of their greatest captain-performers had to contend with the enemy within – ask Akram. The mild mannered Babar did not score badly on this department, barring the odd incident of a reported skirmish with Shaheen Shah Afridi after they failed to make the Asia Cup final in Sri Lanka.
They, in fact, played some of their best cricket in 2021 under Babar’s leadership – winning an away Test series against South Africa and making the semi-finals of the T20 World Cup in the UAE with a series of series of consistent performances. It was in Dubai where Babar and his deputy Mohammed Rizwan inflicted a heavy defeat on India with a 150-plus partnership.
Like one bad defeat doesn’t make a team bad, neither does it make one a poor captain. The criticism that Babar and Rizwan could have certainly stepped up the momentum when they were cruising at 155 for two is a valid one, but it must have been also a classic dilemma for them as the current line-up is so over reliant on the top four to deliver.
Going forward, the Pakistan think tank need to do something outside the box – and quickly. It’s unfair to assume that Babar & Micky Arthur cannot spring a surprise to slow down the Aussies, though the job will not be easy!